A driveway easement, like other property easements, typically allows the owner of a piece of property to grant use for a specific purpose. Generally, an easement does not provide possession rights to the property; rather, another party is given limited use of the property, sometimes for a set length of time. One example of a driveway easement is sharing parking with another neighbor. Another example is when a driveway separates two homes that are extremely close together. In this case, the easement may allow a neighbor to set up a ladder to access his own roof.
Specific rights under a driveway easement may vary by jurisdiction; local ordinances and any other applicable laws typically should be checked beforehand. An assessor’s office may have property maps that indicate the boundaries of the easement, along with any other easements on the property. In some cases, a property owner may give verbal permission or a license for driveway use and this is considered less binding than an easement. Licenses tend to also be easier to change or dissolve.
There are generally two types of easements: public and private. Driveway easements tend to be private agreements between people and a business or other organization. A public easement allows for public use. An easement may also be granted if a person simply uses the property for a certain amount of time. This can be done without formal permission from the property owner.
When entering into or maintaining an easement agreement, it usually is important to keep the lines of communication open so there are no surprises on either side. Problems can arise when one or both parties fail to follow the terms of the driveway easement. A poor relationship with a neighbor or other party to the easement can create unnecessary problems.
One potential problem area is whether both parties are expected to maintain the property. It should be very clear whether a certain amount of maintenance is required. This may involve services for plowing the driveway or making upgrades, such as resurfacing.
If disputes arise, it typically is recommended that the parties try talking with each other to resolve the issues. In some cases, the conditions of the driveway easement may be renegotiated. If that does not work, a real estate attorney might be contacted to review the easement. It generally is unfair and unwise to proceed with a lawsuit or other collection activity without first trying to resolve the matter with the other party. If the other party deliberately destroys property or refuses to pay for driveway renovations that were previously agreed upon, there is more likely to be recourse for legal action.
Is a Shared Driveway an Easement?
Since an easement in its simplest definition constitutes a right or agreement to use, own, or possess a portion of another person's property in a limited way, a shared driveway often consists of one or more easements. In the case of a shared driveway, both users and owners of the driveway generally have easements they must adhere to. There are several types of shared driveway easements largely based on the location of the driveway.
Some shared driveways exist completely on one property, and the easement grants the other property owner rights to use and possess the driveway to access his or her property. Often, these easements are referred to as appurtenant easements and include one servient tenement and one or more dominant tenements. The servient tenement is the property that contains the shared driveway and has to allow the easement. The dominant tenements are any properties that benefit from using the easement.
Other shared driveways exist on both properties at the same time. These shared driveways straddle the property line between two or more properties, automatically requiring all the containing properties to have simultaneous rights to use and possession. Sometimes these kinds of shared driveways will be looked at as no man's land areas or as every man's areas.
Who is Responsible for Maintaining a Driveway Easement?
Regardless of which kind of driveway easement exists, determining who is responsible for maintaining each driveway easement can be tricky and lead to disagreements between neighbors. Generally, driveway easements require some form of maintenance contract or agreement between the different property owners. Sometimes the maintenance responsibilities are informal, verbal ones and other times they are more formal, written and recorded arrangements.
Often, the person who owns the property on which the majority of the driveway easement exists is responsible for maintaining the driveway. If the driveway is shared equally, then all property owners who share it generally have to maintain it. In either situation every property owner who owns, allows or uses the driveway and driveway easement may contribute physically, financially or both to keep the driveway in working condition.
As property ownership changes occur, sometimes these upkeep agreements may change as well. Usually, driveway easements and shared driveways go along with the property regardless of who owns it. This helps protect people from suddenly losing access to their own property or other regularly used facilities. However, new ownership or other changes over time can lead to new agreements or disagreements over who should be maintaining the driveway. It is always best to continue open, honest and regular communication between property owners and revisit understood agreements often to ensure that everyone remains content.
Can a Driveway Easement Be Revoked?
Driveway easements are often more formal than a simple verbal acceptance or agreement, so it is unlikely that one day a driveway easement will be in place and the next day it will not. That said, it is possible to abolish both informal and formal driveway easements. To revoke an easement usually all parties have to agree, the benefiting party has to abandon their claim and use, or a professional, legal order has to end the easement.
If all the property owners and users of the easement agree that the easement should no longer exist, the easement can be revoked. This situation is one of the rarer forms of easement abolishment. Sometimes this end to an easement might occur when benefiting parties gain or build a different access route to their property or the area that they need to reach. This type of revocation might also occur if the reason for the initial easement no longer exists. For example, if an easement provides access to woods for hunting to a non-property owner and the woods are destroyed, the reason for the easement would no longer exist and the property owner and easement user might mutually agree to end the easement.
More often, the person or people who use the easement will simply stop using it for a certain amount of time with no clear intent to use it in the future and the property owner who allowed the easement can claim abandonment. Abandoned easements seem to serve no real purpose and can be more officially revoked if the property owner desires it. Sometimes easement abandonment might require legal or other professional intervention to officially recognize the abandonment and end the easement.
Finally, sometimes disagreements over an easement may end in court or other legal proceedings to formally abolish the easement. Usually, for the easement to be revoked in this way, both parties will have to have legal representation and professional intervention because they cannot reach an agreement about the easement on their own.